Why You Should Stop Thinking Of​ Sampling as Theft

Why You Should Stop Thinking Of​ Sampling as Theft

We need to talk about sampling.

Writing songs using the art of sampling is nothing new. In fact, it’s become one of the only frontiers in music that’s still ripe for innovation.

Sampling is often frowned upon. Some feel that it’s recycling or even stealing — we worry about legal action and originality.

But sampling is one of the last places for growth in music.

It’s a way to cite other artists, to pay homage and to build communities across time.



This isn’t a new concept. Jazz musicians would ‘quote’ one another by borrowing riffs for their own songs. Hip Hop is built on sampling. So is House music. And so are tons of other genres these days from pop to EDM. Even the Musique Concrète pioneers of the 1950’s experimented with found sound…

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So what has sampling become and where is it going? And most importantly: what role does it play today?


We’ve been recording for about 156 years (since the phonautograph). That’s a long time. So after 156 years how many new ways are there to record instruments? Are there endless room shapes, mics or mic placements to make a guitar or piano recording sound new? Does it even matter?

A guitar will always sound like a guitar. A piano will always sound like a piano.

I can lock myself in a room and try and find the ‘perfect’ piano tone for the rest of my life. But those sounds are just references now. References to bygone eras, a traditional way of making music.

Don’t get me wrong I love the idea of tearing up a guitar signal with pedals and effects. And there was a time when that was the peak of experimentation. But with everything at our fingertips now, mic’ing a guitar seems limited compared to what we’re capable of with sampling.


Don’t smash your Rickenbacker just yet.

At a recent ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) panel on music production, producer Harmony Samuels detailed the thinking behind his hit song ‘The Way’. He produced and wrote it for pop star Ariana Grande.

Rory Seydel

Rory Seydel is a musician, writer and father who takes pleasure in touring the world and making records. Creative Director at LANDR.

@Rory Seydel

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